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PDP: Court grants Makarfi reprieve to rescue party

By Leo Sobechi
10 July 2016   |   2:42 am
The season two offerings in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), episodic search for peace, reconciliation and regeneration, did not end on a smooth note. Sheriff has no other place to go.
Markaffi

Markaffi

The season two offerings in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), episodic search for peace, reconciliation and regeneration, did not end on a smooth note. Sheriff has no other place to go. And that is the point the party bigwigs failed to reconsider as they engage the former Borno governor in a game of wits. That being the case, it is left to be seen  how far the pronouncement of court would go to resolve the leadership tussle in the party, between the national convention ordained caretaker committee chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi and the former acting national chairman ousted by the same convention, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.

Lifeline To Makarfi:
ALTHOUGH it came as a breather and lifeline for the Makarfi-led Caretaker committee, the ruling by a Port Harcourt Federal High Court that Sheriff’s removal did not violate the party’s convention, was a refreshing break. While upholding the dissolution of the Sheriff-led executive, Justice Mohammed Liman asserted that the setting up of the caretaker committee was in order.

At the beginning of the drama over the Port Harcourt convention and sidelining of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, the issues for examination included: Who convened the convention? If a court restrained PDP from conducting election, did any court bar the setting up of caretaker committee? Prior to the convention was Sheriff’s appointment ratified? Is the convention greater than the National Working Committee or any of its structures?

As if responding to those salient questions, the court found that Sheriff convened the convention according to the PDP constitution, adding that that assignment was performed collaboratively with other national officers. Justice Liman noted further that after setting up the national convention organising committee, Sheriff “submitted himself for screening to re-contest his position at the convention.”

The court also put it on record that the same Sheriff, as an afterthought decided to retrace his steps from further participation in the process, when he discovered that he had been disqualified from the contest. The Judge denounced the former acting national chairman’s decision to single-handedly postpone the convention, without involving other national officers.

Consequently, the court held that Sheriff lacked the powers to unilaterally postpone the convention. Justice Liman ruled: “From this scenario, it is logical to assume that he was not prevented from participating in the convention. It will also not come from him that the convention was not properly convened…The national chairman should have attended the convention and proposed the postponement. He would have been vindicated even if they rejected it.”

The court also held that since article 35 of the PDP convention provides that the deputy national chairman shall assist the national chairman, deputise for the national chairman in his absence, the deputy national chairman was empowered to preside over the convention in the absence of the national chairman.

While noting that the Sheriff executive was not the controlling authority of the party, Justice Liman declared that the dissolution of Sheriff-led executive by the convention and seting up of a caretaker committee was in order. The court said: “The national convention is the controlling authority of the party, it shall exercise authority to elect and remove the national officers of the party and to appoint such committees it deemed necessary and assign to them such powers it may deem fit.

By the disposition of the Port Harcourt court, the Makarfi caretaker committee seems to have received a lifeline sort of, to begin its refining and renewal of the party structure. Since the caretaker committee has three months to carry out its assignment, time is of essence.

However, the critical demands on the party by the forthcoming governorship polls in Edo and Ondo, make Sheriff’s obduracy makes most worrisome. Despite the hilarious observation by the counsel to PDP, Mr. Dejo Lamaka, (SAN) that the Port Harcourt ruling has made it “clear that Senator Ahmed Markafi was chairman of the party, Sheriff’s rejection of the ruling as just an aspect of the many issues about the party’s leadership should not be dismissed.

Apart from maintaining that he remains the chairman of the party, Sheriff went ahead to conduct a parallel governorship congress in Edo, as well as, obtaining a friendly interim court pronouncement, urging INEC to receive only candidates from his faction. Sheriff is also basing his claim on the pending matter at the Court of Appeal, arguing that until the appellate court rules on the matter, he was in the eyes of the law, the national chairman of PDP.

Speaking to journalists shortly after the Port Harcourt judgment, the former Borno governor said: “We received the news of the court judgment, saying that the caretaker committee has right to go to court to sue on behalf of the PDP. The courts that gave judgments in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt are courts of coordinate jurisdiction, so the order we had in Abuja still subsists.”

But not minding that defense, the two factions have decided to meet and resolve the differences in the interest of the party. It may not be out of the way to deduce that the Sheriff camp may have seen that the path legal victory seems narrow for it, especially the emphasis by the Port Harcourt ruling that whatever actions he took leading to the convention were proper and constitutional until he attempted to shift the goal post all alone.

Governors: Divided By Tomorrow
At the root of the unending dingdong between the Sheriff executive and Makarfi caretaker committee is the interest of PDP state governors. Despite their insistence that Sheriff’s participation in the convention, which he sought to unilaterally outlaw, was an indication that he was on a temporary pedestal as the PDP national chairman; some of the first term governors are making things very confusing. Some of the governors are said to be urging Sheriff on in his recalcitrance with a view to creating the enabling culture to cross over to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

It was also gathered that some of the first term governors are not so well disposed to a regenerated PDP in the belief that the brand has been damaged beyond renewal by the aftermaths of the post 2015 presidential election. This group of governors is said to be disposed, rather to a new platform that would aggregate tendencies that hanker after genuine democracy and party supremacy.

The possibility of another party coming out from PDP remains remote, but is also an issue that has not finally be buried. The geographical inclination of the various tendencies also compound PDP’s precarious situation.

Northeast Complexity
PDP had zoned the presidency to the north and the party leadership to the Northeast. But the geopolitical zone seems to be interested in grabbing the two positions against the background of the ascendancy the Northwest enjoys over them, having produced more of the country’s leaders in the past.

Although the Gombe State governor joined his Taraba counterpart to support Sheriff until it became clear to them that they were losing out, most young politicians in the zone believe Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo has gathered enough experience and track record to defeat Sheriff should they contest the party’s presidential ticket.

Moreover the support for Sheriff, despite the suspicion that he wants to use his national chairman position to improve his chances for the presidential contest, is said to be guided by the understanding that after serving as PDP national chairman, it would be hard to sell his candidacy for the presidency.

All through his days in both the private sector, Central Bank of Nigeria and as Accountant General of Gombe, Dr. Dankwambo was not associated with controversies like Sheriff. In his support for Sheriff, the consideration of geopolitical zone solidarity apart, the Gombe State second term governor knows that the fear that Sheriff would possess the PDP to ventilate his presidential ambition was farfetched.

However, while the Northeast seeks political indemnity from PDP over the cycle of abridged leadership terms of Bamanga Tukur and Adamu Mu’azu, some of the stakeholders in the geopolitical zone nurse a different fear. They are said to be apprehensive over Sheriff’s penchant to work as a mole within the party for rival interest.

Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno alluded to this tendency when he said he trusts his predecessor’s capacity to bury PDP. Even before the Port Harcourt convention that turned catastrophic for Sheriff, talks of how he may ultimately use the PDP as a bargaining chip for the All Progressives Congress (APC) had started making the rounds within the party, especially the Board of Trustees (BoT).

Could it then be that by bringing in Sheriff and deciding to ditch him midway was PDP’s way of ensuring that impunity was not allowed further space? But far from such sane calculation, the scenario was ominous. Party chieftain who got wind of Sheriff’s plans to uphold party supremacy became wary that he would prove a tough nut to crack for even those who championed his adoption. What if he makes the party available for a weak presidential candidate that could be easily trounced by the APC candidate?

It was after such hypothetical scenario was constructed that talks of Sheriff’s closeness to President Muhammadu Buhari were added to the tales of his swashbuckling propensities. PDP may have therefore decided to shoot Sheriff to defy its search for another gamesman to lead the fight to change the change.

It is therefore not for nothing that the embattled acting national chairman should have his baptisms of fire from the very geopolitical zone that adopted him as the new political messiah for floundering erstwhile behemoth, PDP.

The Southwest Divide
Between the desire by Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State to remove all traces of divided loyalty in the party in the zone and to have a controlling influence in the future leadership configuration of the party was the challenge of accommodating Senator Buruji Kashamu’s interests. Amid that clash of interests emerged the dicey position of the Southwest zonal executive of the party. Could another zonal congress be held in spite of court’s ruling that its tenure was yet to run full course?

It was in a bid to solve that puzzle, despite Fayose’s insistence that the court decision was not binding on the party, that the precarious position of Sheriff, who was divided in his alliances to either of the two camps in the zone came to the fore. With eyes on tomorrow, Kashamu and Fayose took polar positions, while Governor Olusegun Mimiko, worked quietly behind the scene, tentatively as a stabilizing force. But believing that the only way to enforce the supremacy of the party was to call the bluff of state governors, Sheriff took sides.

It is left to the embattled SAS to examine whether he should not have found himself fighting another political battle of relevance if he had allowed the Southwest play their game. By its near sophistication, Southwest politics is not amenable to outside command and control.

Perhaps, Sheriff was emboldened to intervene in (interfere with?) the Southwest supremacy contest between Senator Kashamu and Governor Fayose based on the ease with which he handled the state congresses in Southeast. The disputed PDP national chairman sided with the state governors to enroll the members of the Southeast zonal executive after allowing the governors to have their ways in their respective states.
Complacent Southeast

The attempt by Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu to act as the political leader of the zone was defrayed by the state governors, who questioned the reach of the four term senator, noting that whereas they were elected by a larger constituency, the deputy president of senate represents just a senatorial zone

Although it was evident that Ekweremadu was eager to push through his candidate for the national position allotted to Southeast, what happened in Enugu during the zonal congress must have convinced him that the governors were not ready to accommodate his plan.

It is left to conjecture whether what played out in Port Harcourt was propelled by the indirect fall out of the zonal congresses. But, if Ekweremadu had a backup plan, the realization of how he was able to checkmate former governor Sullivan Chime with his foot soldiers in the outgoing National Working Committee of the party must have compelled the governors to erect a stonewall for what his ploy was intended to achieve.

The situation in Southeast was very fluid on account of the alleged covert plans by the governors of Ebonyi and Enugu to warm their way towards the ruling APC. While Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu was said to have delegated former old Anambra governor, Senator Jim Nwobodo, to cross over and prepare the grounds for his (Ugwuanyi’s) possible adoption as governorship flag bearer of the party in 2019, his Ebonyi counterpart, David Umahi Nweze, started his moves to identify with APC very early in the life of this dispensation.

All these calculations added up in the confused situation of Sheriff, who was initially brought on the scene to fund the party following the reluctance of most PDP governors to show active interest in injecting financial life into the running of the party.

But as signs of APC’s instability began to show, the governors animated their interest, at least to have something to cling on until the next general election. That in part could also be why the governors ganged up to oust Sheriff when they discovered that the senator tends to have the capacity to surprise his backers. Even when a particular senator from the Southeast mooted the idea of granting Sheriff a three month breather, the governors stuck to their guns.

Slippery South-South
As things added up to his discomfiture, the full weight of Sheriff’s troubles in PDP was compounded in the South-South where a crucial governorship election is being expected. To PDP, the Edo governorship is a must win, because Edo happens to be the only state of the South-South out of the umbrella. Again, the stakes there are very high given the fact that the state is controlled by a loquacious incumbent that is desirous of proving a political point.

All the state governors in the zone, but one, are serving their first terms in office. The realization that allowing Sheriff to regularize and consolidation his leadership of the party could jeopardize their chances for an easy second term ticket roused the governors to revulsion. Even the lone second term governor had apprehensions that implementing his succession plan could prove herculean under a Sheriff chairmanship. Having seen the former Borno governor’s eyes in the dark, these tendencies aggregated on the Sheriff must go platform.

The puzzles remain in South-South, from where Sheriff recently appointed a tireless political fighter, Dr. Cairo Ojuogbo, as his acting deputy national chairman. So, in the desperate situation in Edo, would Sheriff play a spoiler or be a trader? Whichever way he chooses the state offers great bonus. For instance, if Sheriff receives a boost from the court such that it falls within his responsibility to authenticate the party’s candidate, PDP would bleed from it. The embattled national chairman could do a deal with APC in return for a much needed further federal might to vanquish his opponents in the party and possess the structure for a bigger effect in the high stakes 2019.

For now, SAS must have seen that he has not as much to lose as PDP and its faithful apostles. As such he can afford to set conditions for the amicable (out of court?) settlement of the crisis if the party hopes to run on the basis of strength in Edo and Ondo polls. There is no doubt that the work of the Makarfi team is being hampered and constrained by the prevailing tug of war. As the major life line rests on court pronouncement, according to the position of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), amicable resolution of the logjam could avert the danger of delayed court processes.

Nobody is talking about the national convention that has been put on hold by the multiplicity of litigations. The erstwhile ruling party is on tenterhooks. If PDP wants to get its life by fighting Sheriff to the finish, it could lose it. However, if Sheriff loses the fight, PDP will never remain the same again!